Album Review: „Moping In Style: A Tribute to Adam Green“

A tribute to a living, breathing, batshit crazy artist might initially seem unusual. Releases of covers accompanied with sincere declarations of respect and inspiration are often saved for when a musician pops their clogs. However, when considering the unorthodox style of cult singer-songwriter Adam Green, coupled with the recent wave of nostalgia for the early noughties NYC indie rock scene (Green’s band The Moldy Peaches is included in the „Meet Me In The Bathroom“ oral history and documentary adaptation), „Moping In Style: A Tribute to Adam Green“ feels apt. 

For those in the know, Green is much loved for his unique and often bizarre song writing talents spanning a solo career of more than twenty years. „Moping In Style“ features an impressive range of established and newer artists such as Jenny Lewis, Sean Ono Lennon, Frankie Cosmos and Joanna Sternberg covering songs from Green’s debut solo album „Garfield“ through to his most recent release „That Fucking Feeling“. The project headed up by friend and fellow Anti-Folk scene musician Turner Cody (who himself contributed a funky cover of „Hairy Women“) took more than a year to compile and showcases Green’s remarkable range and talent as one of the leading indie rock songwriters of the last two decades.  

Some of the prominent contributions to the tribute come from Green’s long-time friends and fellow Anti-Folk scene musicians, such as Ben Kweller, Devendra Banhart and Jeffrey Lewis. Indeed, the opening rendition of „We’re Not Supposed To Be Lovers“ comes as an intimate piano duet from Regina Spektor and Jack Dishel, both of whom were part of the early noughties NYC scene, with Dishel playing alongside Green in The Moldy Peaches. The couples’ reimagining as a duet feels intimate and the use of bells alongside the record’s December release might just see this cover slip into a few Christmas playlists. While Devendra Banhart’s signature soulfulness and sensitivity results in a delicate, dreamy version of „Pay The Toll“, and Jeffrey Lewis offers up a more familiar cover of „Bartholemew“ that is peppered with ambient background traffic noise. While these covers largely stay true to Green’s original visions and shine a light on his unique talent for melody, Ben Kweller’s distinct interpretation of „Her Father and Her“ is one of the tribute’s most striking tracks. Green’s close friend Kweller swaps sparse acoustic guitar for an intense piano opening before expertly building into full-blown murder ballad territory, evocative of Nick Cave. A swelling, menacing track of heavy proportions, you almost expect the song to break free of its 3 minutes and thunder into a sprawling epic. 

For listeners familiar with Green’s original recordings, contributions like Kweller’s, that take the songs in completely new directions, are initially of greater interest. One of the first tastes of a wholly new reimagining is The Lemon Twigs‘ version of „Baby’s Gonna Die Tonight“, which morphs the original lo-fi indie rock song into a full blown 1970’s inspired foot stomper. The D’Addario brothers’ soaring harmonies coupled with the track’s keyboards is euphoric as hell and begs to be played on repeat. Another new take is Binki Shapiro’s „Getting Led“, a pleasant surprise as the original’s smooth croon by Green and 1960’s-inspired female backing vocals sits in a similar vein to the 2013 duet album released by Green and Shapiro. The hypnotic guitars and beats on which Shapiro’s sultry vocals sit breathes a more modern feel into the track, while the extended song length allows for a soothing groove led outro.

Another stand out reimagining is TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone’s version of „Drugs“, which doesn’t just take Green’s song in a new direction, but takes it by the hand and leads it down a dark alleyway and into a crack den. While known for his bizarre and vulgar lyrics, Green is a master at contrasting these with his warm baritone and lush melodies – sometimes with a classy string section to boot – to wrap up his risqué content with a cartoon like scamp veneer. Green’s recording of „Drugs“ is a prime example of this expert tightrope, with the original having an amusingly mischievous feel backed with jaunty violin. Contrastingly, Malone strips away the cheerful vocal for one that is brooding (imagine Scar from the Lion King singing about his love for heroin) and purrs on top of an unsettling backbeat. There isn’t a violin within ten miles of this woozy, seedy love letter to narcotics, and consequently the rendition stands out as a menacing take on Green’s jovial original. 

The spirit of Green’s signature tongue in cheek absurdity and rock pastiche is probably best represented by the record closer „Musical Ladders (alt)“ by The Dooors (note: this is not a typo, Dooors is indeed spelt with 3 o’s). Initially a perplexing track as Father John Misty already offered up a faithful rendition of „Musical Ladders“ towards the start of the record, it’s even more bewildering when you realise that this is a mysterious Doors tribute act singing the words to „Musical Ladders“ over essentially the tune to „Riders of the Storm“. While this might seem idiotic to some, it is exactly the kind of eccentric, bizarre and stupidly hilarious sweet spot that Green is celebrated for. By the end of the 6-minute psychedelic reimagining (almost 3 times longer than Green’s version), any other ending to the tribute record seems unfathomable.

Brimming with more covers than can be mentioned here (26 renditions to be precise!), „Moping In Style“ is a treasure trove of brilliance as weird, wonderful and varied as the inner workings of Adam Green’s brain. The tribute shines a light on Green as one of the leading indie rock songwriters of the last two decades and showcases a mutual artistic respect between Green and the record’s contributors. For diehard fans of Green, „Moping In Style“ will undoubtedly provide new perspectives on their favourite songs and likely introduce them to new musical talents to explore. And for those previously unfamiliar with Green, „Moping In Style“ will surely act as a gateway drug to the kaleidoscopic, intoxicating and inimitable back catalogue of Adam Green.